Paul Kendrick sifts through Wigan Athletic’s disappointing 3-0 defeat at Rangers in their final pre-season friendly on Sunday and assesses five major talking points on the eve of the new campaign.
1 The Latics squad is still short on numbers. With just four days before the start of the Championship season – and the earlier-than-usual transfer deadline fast approaching – the strength and depth of the pool at Paul Cook’s disposal was exposed at Ibrox. Only nine subs (compared to Rangers’ 10), which included TWO goalkeepers, the gaffer readily admits he’s in need of quality reinforcements. And fast. Particularly at the heart of the defence. But are his hands being tied by the ongoing takeover...?
2 Dan Burn’s presence in the side is immense. Okay, not exactly something we didn’t know, but exactly how much Latics rely on the big man was underlined in damning fashion. Paul Cook reckoned it was a classic game of two halves. In the first half, with Burn on the field, Latics gave as good as they got and Rangers hardly had a sniff of goal. In the second half, after Burn’s injury-enforced substitution, Latics looked vulnerable every time the ball was played into their box, and all three goals came from crosses that weren’t dealt with at all. The Latics boss will be keeping his fingers crossed and desperately hoping Burn’s foot injury doesn’t turn out to be serious.
3 Reece James looks like he’s here to stay. The on-loan Chelsea defender may only be 18, but he is built like the proverbial brick outhouse and already looks an accomplished footballer. Not every loan acquisition has paid dividends in recent years, but this one looks to be a masterstroke.The England youth star got forward at every opportunity at Ibrox, giving Latics an extra option in attack, and player of the year Nathan Byrne may have a battle on his hands to regain his starting right-back spot when he returns from injury.
4 Jamie Walker could have a key role to play this term. The young Scot has been largely a peripheral figure since moving down from Hearts in January. But he showed on his return to his homeland why Paul Cook was so keen to add him to the squad midway through last term. His introduction in the second period added much-needed spark to the attack, he was brought down for the penalty, and put down a marker ahead of the season opener against Sheffield Wednesday.
5 The Latics fans are a special breed. Despite regularly being on the end of stick from rivals clubs, the supporters turned out in incredible numbers at the weekend. Almost 2,000 of them for a pre-season friendly on a Sunday - in the school holidays - was a phenomenal effort. It was just a shame the performance on the field didn’t give them much to celebrate. Not that some of them will have noticed given the alcohol was flowing from very early on Sunday morning...